The Southwark Diocesan Pilgrimage 2018 has begun. 84 Pilgrims travelled together from Heathrow to Tel Aviv where they were joined by one Pilgrim who had already travelled. Our flight was a bit delayed but we are pleased to be here and to be preparing for all that the next week will bring. When we arrived at the airport we collected our luggage – thankfully everyone’s arrived – and then we went through customs and into the arrivals lounge, where we were met by our guides Bassam (for the red Pilgrims coach) and Samer (for the green Disciples coach). Each coach is led everyday by two people who lead the worship and make sure no one gets lost! On the Pilgrims coach our pilgrims are looked after by the Revd Patrick Eggleston from the Thamesmead Team and Ruth Martin, a Reader from the Richmond team and also our Diocesan Secretary. The Disciples coach is looked after by the Revd Jane Yeadon and Capt Nicholas Lebey, both from the Thamesmead team.

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For those of us who have been before it was wonderful to be back and for the new pilgrims there is great excitement concerning all they will see and do.

As well as Bishop Christopher, the Dean and I, three of the pilgrims have been on all three Diocesan pilgrimages. They are the Revd Patrick Egglestone, who has also brought pilgrims from his parish on parish pilgrimages (and there are a number from his parish here this time too), then there is the Revd Erica Wooff who has been tweeting a countdown to our journey which shows you how excited she is, and finally Linda Smith from the parish of St John, Peckham.

We hope that they might want to blog in the next couple of days about why they have come each time. There are two in the trio that have been on either the 2013 or the 2016 pilgrimage and want to relive the experience and find new things. It is amazing how much there is to see and learn and experience that is new each time one visits – no matter how many times one has been.

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Bishop Christopher says: ‘I am delighted that once again we have a really diverse group of pilgrims with us who reflect all the parts of our Diocese. This is such a wonderful way for people from different parishes to get to know each other, to journey together and to find that their faith is deepening because of all they share.’

The Dean, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn, who is leading the pilgrimage with the Bishop says, ‘It is always such a privilege to be able to bring people to the Holy Land to walk in the steps of Jesus and to worship in this most special of places. It is wonderful to have so many who are travelling for the first time and can see things with fresh eyes which will inspire us all.’

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And so after we arrive at our hotel and have a light supper it was off to bed before our first busy day.